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Review: A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood

November 22, 2019

By John Corrado

★★★½ (out of 4)

There has been a bit of a Mister Rogers revival going on over the past few years, thanks in part to the release of Morgan Neville’s lovely documentary Won’t You Be My Neighbor?, which was my pick for the best non-fiction film of last year.

But I think another reason for this Fred Rogers revival has to do with the fact that, in this time of great uncertainty, people crave the calming presence of the late children’s television host now more than ever. This Mister Rogers resurgence continues with the wonderful A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood, which makes the perfect choice to cast Tom Hanks in the role of the beloved figure, and the results are, for lack of a better word, magical.

The film follows Lloyd Vogel (Matthew Rhys), a cynical journalist who is assigned to write a short magazine profile of the star of the TV show Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood. While Lloyd initially scoffs at having to interview a children’s entertainer, he forms a bond with Mister Rogers that helps him reconnect with his wife Andrea (Susan Kelechi Watson), with whom he shares a young son, as well as his estranged father Jerry (Chris Cooper).

Inspired by the true story of Tom Junod, who profiled Fred Rogers in an acclaimed 1998 Esquire article and formed a bond with him in real life, A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood is a lovely portrait of the beloved television host that stays true to his values of treating everyone with kindness. Rhys carries the film with a moving performance as a broken man reconnecting with his family and learning to forgive his dying father, and he is perfectly complimented by Hanks, who is absolutely wonderful in the role of Fred Rogers. It’s only fitting to have one beloved American performer portraying another, and this is the sort of supporting role that takes centre stage, being the reason why many will see this movie.

Yes, Mister Rogers is a supporting character in his own movie, but I don’t think Rogers would have minded being portrayed as the guiding force in someone else’s story, as he was for so many of us, and Hanks brings great humility and patience to his characterization. While their physical characteristics are not exactly alike, Rogers was skinnier for example, Hanks is able to subtly transform into him much in the same way that he was able to so effectively portray Walt Disney in Saving Mr. Banks. He captures the essence of Mister Rogers in a way that is truly special, including a moment where he sings with Fred’s beloved puppet Daniel Tiger that is sure to get you choked up.

Director Marielle Heller finds a really clever way to get around usual biopic formula by structuring the film like an episode of Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood, complete with the classic songs, miniatures to transition between scenes, and even a trip to the Neighborhood of Make-Believe. The attention to detail is impressive, and anyone who grew up watching the show will be delighted by A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood. This is a moving and magical film that is filled with compassion, offering a touching tribute to Fred Rogers and the impact that he was able to have upon so many others.

A version of this review was originally published during the 2019 Toronto International Film Festival.

A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood is now playing in select theatres across Canada.

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